"NextGen Advisory Committee"
Michael Huerta, Salt Lake City, Utah
February 7, 2013

NextGen Advisory Committee


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thanks for that introduction. It’s great to be here with all of you. I have a special place in my heart for Salt Lake City and for Utah going back to my days on the organizing committee of the winter Olympics.

Today we have students and faculty visiting from Utah Valley University.

These students are studying Aviation Administration and are here to observe how industry and the federal government discuss the issues involving NextGen – the Next Generation Air Transportation system.  Welcome to all of you. I am glad that you are interested in NextGen. Today you will get some insight into the challenges that you will face as aviation professionals.  

As you saw at the tour of the en route center yesterday, Salt Lake City and its controllers have played an important role in testing, refining and using ERAM – that’s En Route Automation Modernization. 

ERAM is one of the foundations of NextGen. It’s the new backbone of the air traffic control surveillance system, and it’s now operational at nearly half of the en route centers in the nation. This is a big improvement over where we were four years ago.

We are making progress in realizing the benefits of NextGen now. Another place we are really seeing progress is Seattle. And one of the airlines that has embraced satellite navigation from the early days is Alaska Airlines. That kind of commitment is due to strong leadership and vision.

I want to welcome Bill Ayer as the new chairman of the NAC. And I want to thank him for his dedication and hard work to make Greener Skies Over Seattle a reality.

Next month, we will start using new satellite-based procedures into SeaTac that will save fuel, cut track miles and reduce noise and greenhouse gas emissions. Ninety-five percent of all airlines that fly into Seattle will be able to use these new procedures.

The work we’re doing with satellite-based navigation in Seattle will provide a template for how to roll out these benefits at airports across the country.

So thank you, again, Bill, for your leadership and support.

FAA/DOT Personnel Updates

As you all know, Secretary LaHood has announced that he is leaving his Cabinet position. He said it’s the best job he’s ever had. We have made significant progress at the DOT under his leadership in reducing distracted driving, providing pilots the opportunity for the rest they need, and reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. He’ll stay on until the Administration names a replacement to assure a smooth transition.

We’re also going to miss Vicki Cox. Vicki led the way in moving NextGen from concept to reality.

She figured out a way to pay for it, assembled a team that could make it happen, and made sure new technologies and procedures would blend safely with the existing system. She had to build a road map, and the roads too.

Now Pam Whitley has taken up the reins as Acting Assistant Administrator for NextGen. She is continuing down the path that she helped to set in motion as Vicki’s right-hand. Pam joined the FAA in 1993 and has been involved in NextGen from the start. She sees the big picture and knows how all of the pieces fit together. I appreciate that she’s agreed to step up and take on the challenge. 

Still on the to-do list is naming a new Deputy Administrator for the FAA, who will act as the agency’s champion for NextGen.  We are working on that. In a change from previous years, this position will not need Senate confirmation so we’re optimistic the process will be smooth. We hope to have more information on that – and hopefully even an introduction – at our next meeting.  

Boeing 787

The FAA’s number one priority is the safety of the traveling public. So, before I go any further, I want to address recent developments with the Boeing 787 aircraft.

As I’ve said before, I have confidence in Boeing’s ability to create a safe aircraft. At the FAA, our job is to make sure every aspect of an aircraft meets the highest possible safety standards.

We need to get to the bottom of the recent issues with the batteries in the 787 and ensure their safety before these aircraft can be put back into service.

We are working diligently with Boeing to figure out the problem and to find a solution.  Our goal is to get this done as quickly as possible, but we must be confident that the problems are corrected before we can move forward.

Budget/Sequestration

As you know, we are hopeful that Congress will reach a solution and avoid sequestration. As it stands right now, the budget cuts are scheduled to happen on March 1st.

As you may recall, on New Year’s Eve, Congress reached an agreement on the taxation portion of the fiscal cliff. In addition, they postponed sequestration for 60 days in order to give the new Congress time to act. The original estimate of an 8.2 percent across-the-board cut has been reduced now to a 5 percent across-the-board cut for FAA. That is because part of the New Year’s Eve deal included a $24 billion package that cuts spending and raises revenues. Still, we would have less time to make the sequestration cuts because fiscal year 2013 will be nearly half over by March 1st.

We anticipate that the Office of Management and Budget would implement sequestration across the board. This would require the FAA to make the cuts equally across all budget line items in the affected accounts.  This significantly minimizes the flexibility we would have in managing the budget reductions.

Sequestration would force the FAA to cut back on operating costs by reducing the core services we provide.  

We anticipate that in the upcoming weeks the newly seated 113th Congress will address the remaining components of the fiscal cliff. Congress would need to pass an alternative debt reduction strategy that would eliminate the need for the sequestration. Congress did tackle one important item already, by agreeing to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling so that our country will not default on its debts.  

Apart from possible sequestration, the FAA does not have a budget for fiscal year 2013. Congress passed a continuing resolution which keeps the government running until March 27 at a rate equal to last year’s budget. After March 27, we will need an approved budget or another continuing resolution to keep operating.

If Congress keeps our spending level the same through the end of fiscal year 2013 it would be enough to maintain the FAA's basic operations with minimal impacts.

The release of the 2014 budget has been delayed because of uncertainty over sequestration and the fiscal cliff. We are continuing to work with the Office of Management and Budget to develop this budget. 

Also, on January 29 President Obama signed the $50 billion aid package for areas hit by Superstorm Sandy.  The bill includes $30 million for the FAA to make needed repairs to air traffic control systems and facilities damaged in the storm.

This includes damage to fiveair traffic control towers such as Philadelphia and Richmond, and the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center. 

The funding also allows FAA to fix 23 navigation and lighting systems across New York and Connecticut, including those at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.

Update on DataComm

We have made significant progress on DataComm. This is a capability that has been on the drawing board for a long time – for years – and I am proud to say that the FAA has committed to DataComm as the way of the future.

The full benefits of NextGen – increased efficiency and safety, the ability to make complicated re-routes in mid-flight, the reduction in wait times to take off – all of these rely on the capabilities of DataComm. The FAA formally decided last May to adopt this program and to make it part of the way we operate.

And last September, we awarded a contract to integrate DataComm into the many parts and pieces of our airspace system – I’m talking about ground automation, telecommunications, security firewalls, air-ground network services and aircraft avionics. It all has to be integrated to work together.

The big picture is that we are moving forward with DataComm in towers at 41 major airports starting the roll out in 2016.  A few years later, we plan to start the roll out at en route centers that cover the entire country.

More immediately – just last month, we started DataComm trials in Memphis. We have been testing the departure clearances that controllers issue from the tower to pilots ready to takeoff. We’ll continue testing for the next year.

The FAA and FedEx made history January 17 when a FedEx MD-11 received a departure clearance to fly from Memphis to Miami using written instructions from the air traffic controller rather than a clearance spoken over the radio.

At 3:09 pm that day, the FAA controller pressed “CLEARED AS FILED,” letting the FedEx plane know it was cleared.

The pilot “WILCO'd” in writing, and thus a small, but significant step was taken to providing Data Comm to our airspace system.

Flight crews and controllers reported the system performed as expected.

We’ll expand these trials in coming months to include more FedEx flights.

We’ll also expand the Data Comm trials to Newark starting in April, working with United Airlines and others. Again, we’ll test the departure clearances with a limited number of airplanes at first, then move on to passenger flights as the trial progresses over the course of the coming year.

Now, while we are working more immediately on departure clearances from the towers, we intend to use DataComm when controlling high altitude traffic as well.

And we’re making progress. We have a team of experts from different lines of business inside the FAA – everyone who needs to be onboard to implement our plan for DataComm in the en route environment. We have created this new process to ensure that DataComm moves forward inside the FAA in a way that’s coordinated and expedited.

A year ago, you gave us recommendations for how to move forward with DataComm and we heard you. We’re acting on it. The recommendations are not sitting on a shelf gathering dust. This team of experts from across the agency is analyzing and debating those recommendations in an orderly manner.

Other Relevant NextGen News

We are on track to publish the 2013 update to the NextGen Implementation Plan next month.  This year, we’ll publish it electronically: as an e-book and as a downloadable PDF.  

We’re trying to reduce printing costs and save trees. Plus, the electronic version includes links to supplemental info on the FAA website.

We will still print a brochure of the plan with the executive summary. And we’ll also print the Appendix A tables.

Presentations:

  • David Grizzle will now update you on our response to the Metrics Report that we received from you last fall.
  • Nancy Kalinowski will then brief you on the FAA’s effort to develop a list of Harmonized Metrics. 
  • Lynn Ray and David Surridge (US Airways) will provide a briefing on the new NextGen arrival routings we have been using in the Washington D.C. metro area since last August.
  • We used a very collaborative process to create these fuel-saving arrivals. And we’re seeing benefits already.

###